How Video Made an Art World Star

In a retrospective at the Studio Museum in Harlem, a close-up of the celebrated video artist Kalup Linzy. Part America’s Funniest Home Videos, part Lil’ Kim, the collection of 22 videos offers captivating commentary on celebrity, masculinity and sexuality.

Electronic Arts Intermix

There is nothing virtuosic about 32-year-old artist Kalup Linzy's videos.

The lighting is harsh, the editing perfunctory, the costumes, at times, haphazard. The style is best described as a pastiche of public access television, YouTube, daytime soap operas, hip-hop and Web pornography. To the average person, the videos would be better described as America's Funniest Home Videos crossed with Liam Sullivan (of Shoes fame), layered with a generous helping of Lil' Kim.

With this unusual combination, Kalup Linzy transitioned from being one among a group of emerging black artists, to being the standout star in quick and dramatic fashion.

After a procession of accolades and increasingly prestigious showings at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Rubell Family Collection, the Musee d’Art Moderne de la ville de Paris and PS1 Contemporary Art Center, last month the Studio Museum in Harlem honored the artist by opening Kalup Linzy: If it Don't Fit, a retrospective of the first seven years of his artistic career.

"We thought it was a really healthy time to mount a retrospective of Linzy's work because he has just finished his album [Sweetberry Sonnet]," explains curator Naomi Beckwith, who organized the show with curatorial assistant Thomas Lax.

Lax added that "as we were organizing the show, we realized that the amount and breadth of his work really demanded [the kind of] attention" afforded by a retrospective.

Kalup Linzy's recent art-world ascension comes as a surprise because he came through neither the New York art world nor Ivy League MFA programs. Linzy's personal trajectory began way down south in Stuckey, Fla., a small town west of Orlando. After high school, he headed to Tampa to attend the University of South Florida where he received a BFA in 2001 and an MFA in 2003. Shortly after graduating, Linzy gathered up his artistic oeuvre. Armed with raw talent and a small collection of contacts made during a summer spent at the prestigious Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Skowhegan, Maine, he set out for New York.

In 2004, Linzy took part in PS1's International Studio Program, where Christine Y. Kim, then-associate curator at the Studio Museum, discovered his work and immediately included him in two group shows. New York Times critic Holland Cotter foretold Linzy's meteoric rise way back in 2005, when he opened a review of Linzy's first solo exhibition at Taxter & Spengemann with the syrupy exclamation: "A star is born!"